The best adventure games

Best adventure games — Grim Fandango

We've rummaged through the archives to round up the very best adventure games on PC: the funniest stories, the most memorable characters, and the most satisfying puzzles. We haven't strictly defined the genre—we've included traditional point-and-click games as well as new forms—but as a general rule these are exploration, puzzle, and story-driven games that value atmosphere, dialogue, and discovery over action or stats.

Best of the best

Crusader Kings 3

(Image credit: Paradox)

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Most of these selections come from professional adventure game connoisseur Richard Cobbett, but we've continued to add more adventure games as they earn a spot among the greats.

Our list is broken up into two sections: the first is dedicated to modern-style adventure games, like Gone Home and Telltale's The Walking Dead. In the second, we hearken back to the point-and-click classics from the golden days of yore, and to the more recent games following in their footsteps.

Best modern adventure games

The adventure genre has always been a nebulously-defined one, and that's only gotten more true over time as it evolved beyond any defined standard for controls or presentation. Here, we've piled a heap of the best adventure games that eschew the traditional point-and-click style, whether they're walking sims or found-footage forensic adventures.

Stories Untold

Release date: 2017 | Developer: No Code | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

For those who lust after old hardware—the satisfying click of mechanical keyboards, the magnetic buzz and whirs of a CRT, the hot breath of a stranger standing right behind you in an empty house—then Stories Untold is a must. It features four episodes of sci-fi horror where your primary interactions are centered around a set of old hardware. In the first episode, you sit at a desk and play and old horror text adventure. But soon, the reason you can see the room around you and how the text adventure relates to that becomes clear. Each subsequent level has its own twist (or two) on the setting and old electronics within, making for some of the most unique, eerie adventure gaming out there. 

Life is Strange

Release date: 2015 | Developer: Dontnod Entertainment | Steam (opens in new tab)

Life is Strange was one of the biggest surprises of the last few years—a Telltale style episodic game that stood alone, and a clever gimmick backed up by tremendous heart. It’s the story of a nervous girl who discovers she has the power to rewind time, right on the edge of a disaster about to hit her town. Yet the drama really comes from her relationships, from the genuinely difficult choices to make, and the clunkily-written but still efficient coming of age story at its heart. 

Soma

Release date: 2015 | Developer: Frictional Games | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Any time you create something as notable as Amnesia: The Dark Descent (aka “Screaming YouTube Payday”), there’s going to be the lingering question—OK, so what else have you got? Frictional responded with Soma, building on its horror heritage, but putting the scares into an endlessly more complex, beautiful, and somehow even more claustrophobic environment. Unlike a lot of recent horror, it avoids an over-reliance on jump-scares and repeated gimmicks where possible, and soon reveals it has more to it than just scares. It’s a solid bit of SF that’ll still make you want to hide behind the sofa. As long as your sofa is in the same room as your PC, which it probably isn’t.

Her Story

Release date: 2015 | Developer: Sam Barlow | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

Her Story has now won enough awards for creator Sam Barlow to melt them all down and create some kind of towering super-award, and not without reason. Her Story isn’t the only good FMV game ever made, despite what some will say, but it is a genuinely brilliant attempt to use the format for the kind of interactions it was created to offer, instead of bending over backwards to make it do things it never should have been asked to in the first place. It’s a bit of a shame that what begins as a murder mystery soon takes a swerve into a more fantastical character study, and that your purpose in the game isn’t quite what it seems. Even so, digging through the tale by searching for keywords and clips and piecing together the order for yourself is as compelling as any detective fiction.

To The Moon

Release date: 2011 | Developer: Freebird Games | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Something adventures do better than any other genre is the more thoughtful story, with no need to be broken up every five minutes to punch a demon or race a car. To the Moon is one of the best recent examples, focusing on regret and hope and lost memories in reverse in an anachronistic order. Built in RPG Maker but still an adventure at its soul, it’s a great mystery, a sombre story, and a very moving experience.

Firewatch

Release date: 2016 | Developer: Campo Santo | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Expectations were high for Telltale’s Walking Dead creators when they founded their new company, and they were met with this fascinatingly low-key follow-up. No zombies. No axe-wielding psychopaths. Just the story of a man, Henry, escaping his life by taking a job watching for fires in Wyoming, and the relationship he develops with his boss, Delilah. At least, to begin with. Some of the mystery that follows is opinion-splitting material, but Campo Santo nails both the loneliness and the camaraderie of being vulnerable and isolated in even mostly-safe situations. Even when the thriller part fades, the exquisite character piece remains.

Gone Home

Release date: 2013 | Developer: The Fullbright Company | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

The touching background story of young love and sexual identity is arguably the most talked about part, but it’s digging through the artifacts of a strange time not so long ago that makes this less an adventure game than time travel. A very absorbing take on the genre.

Spycraft: The Great Game

Release date: 1996 | Developer: Activision | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Easily the best attempt ever at conveying the feel of being a realworld spy. You’re playing with toys and tools that are at least plausible and primarily saving the day from behind a desk.

A Mind Forever Voyaging

Released: 1985 | Developer: Infocom

One of the most intriguing games ever: a game about stepping through decades to witness the rise and fall of America through the eyes of a computer that’s only just found out it’s not really a kid. Wrenching, evocative and almost puzzle-free, it uses text to paint a picture even modern graphics would struggle with, creating a vision that’s a bit goofy, but easy to get lost in.

Night in the Woods

Release date: 2017 | Developer: Infinite Fall | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

Breezy platforming and very minimal puzzling provide the framework for a sweet, earnest, sad coming of age story set in a fading small town. With bouncy, affected dialogue—which is sometimes too cute, but always funny and unabashedly sweet—Mae Borowski explores her hometown and reestablishes friendships after dropping out of college for reasons she won't say. Mae's naive interactions with her parents, her friends, and herself strike genuine, clearly observed notes about adulthood and friendship, as well as the working class struggles of an alienated small town population.

Little Big Adventure 2 (Twinsen's Odyssey)

Release date: 1997 | Developer: Adeline Software | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Twinsen is the awkwardly named hero of planet Twinsun, formerly under the despotic control of one Doctor FunFrock. Why, yes, it is a French game. How did you guess? This sequel widens the scope as ‘friendly’ aliens arrive to, and let’s be clear, definitely not abduct the world’s wizards for evil purposes, and the ensuing trip through space is among the most adorable, most tactile adventures you’ll ever go on. Also, the most badass threat ever delivered by a hero. Minor spoiler, but:

The Walking Dead: Series 1

Release date: 2012 | Developer: Telltale Games | Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

Completely rewriting the adventure gaming rulebook, Telltale brought a sense of action and deep emotion to its take on the beloved comics. The smoke and mirrors are best not investigated too closely, but no adventure has ever forced so many people to think about every decision for what it will say about them as much as what it might do.

Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Release date: 1997 | Developer: Activision | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Secretly, most of the Zork series isn’t that great. And Myst? Not appearing on any best-of list composed by Richard Cobbett. But put them together and you get this hilarious game of wit and lateral thinking—of changing a sign to turn an infinite corridor into a merely finite one, winning a game of strip rock-paper-scissors by mind-reading, or beating a complex puzzle by literally beating it. With a rock.

The Witness

Release date: 2016 | Developer: Thekla, Inc | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

The modern successor to Myst, but let’s not hold that against it too much. The Witness is more of a puzzle than a classic adventure, where every interaction revolves around simply drawing paths onto screens. Did I say ‘simply’? Forget that part. Early on it asks for nothing more than connecting a couple of dots, but it’s not long before the grammar of the puzzles is as complicated as any of the actual solutions. Bit by bit, The Witness teaches you how it works, and as you explore, you may even figure out why it exists. But don’t expect an easy answer there either. If you like your puzzle games with a side of philosophy, and more purpose than just cranking out levels, check it out.

Tales From The Borderlands

Release date: 2014 | Developer: Telltale Games | Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

Tales From The Borderlands is simultaneously one of Telltale’s least interactive games, and one of its best. Probably best not to think about that too carefully. Luckily, there’s no need. What originally looked like the most ridiculous, random tie-in ended up being one of the funniest games in years. Enjoy it for its cinematic craziness. Treat its occasional generosity in letting you choose an option as forgiveable. It’s not something I’d want to become the standard for adventures by any stretch, but few others have the charisma, the wit, and the soundtrack to pull it off with such style.

Best point-and-click adventure games

While many modern adventure games offer controller support or keyboard controls for navigating 3D worlds, the classics were all point-and-click games, relying on the trusty old mouse and (usually) an array of commands like "Open" and "Look." These are the best old and new point-and-click adventures.

Day of the Tentacle

Release date: 1993 | Developer: LucasArts | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

What is an adventure game? It’s a question many people have a different answer for, but it’s usually based on a love of story, of comedy, of puzzles, of character, of writing, of stepping into a different world for a while and seeing something new. Day of the Tentacle doesn’t have too much in the way of story, but no other game has quite encapsulated everything else so well. It’s the ultimate puzzlebox: three characters in past, present and future worlds working together on headscratchers such as putting a bottle of wine from the future into a time capsule in the past so that hundreds of years later it becomes vinegar and can then be sent back. Thus is the evil Purple Tentacle slowly defeated, even as you walk round the future he’s conquered.

It all just flows, the vivid cartoon graphics making the setting feel far larger than simply one house, and a huge cast of crazy and recurring characters across the three time periods ensuring there’s always something new to be discovered or a new joke to find. It lacks the depth of stuff to point and click on that Sam & Max Hit The Road offered, but what it has is always worth seeing.

Many adventure games hang on at least in part because of their reputation , and so can feel a bit outdated when played today. But Day of the Tentacle is an adventure that’s never been bettered—the high benchmark for the genre since 1993 and still just as enjoyable today. Based on its success, we got games like Grim Fandango and Psychonauts, and unlike many games, it’s all wrapped up by the end with no need for a sequel. Its legacy lives on, and that’s what matters. The best of all time.

Grim Fandango

Release date: 1998 | Developer: LucasArts | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab) 

Many of the best stories are a fusion of things that you can’t imagine working until you see it happening—and then can’t imagine anything else. The Day of the Dead. Aztec mythology. Glengarry Glen Ross. Film noir. It’s the setting for suave yet ground-down travel agent Manny Calavera to go on a four year journey of the soul in the name of love and redemption. (While Grim Fandango originally used 3D "tank controls" instead of a point-and-click movement system, the remaster offers support for both. Spiritually, we felt like it belonged here.)

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Release date: 1992 | Developer LucasArts | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

As far as most adventure gamers are concerned, the fourth Indiana Jones film came out in 1992. And then there were no more. Fate of Atlantis not only gave Indy an adventure worth a thousand crystal skulls, but offered players three distinct ways to experience it—with wits, fists, or accompanied by Sophia Hapgood, psychic turned treasure hunter. The adventure went all over the world, all beautifully painted in Lucasarts’ classic style, and what it lacked in big cinematic set-pieces, it more than made up in 2D action. Fate of Atlantis casts Indy as the thinker's action hero.

Discworld Noir

Best adventure games — Discworld Noir

Release date: 1999 | Developer: Perfect Entertainment

The third Discworld game finally shed its predecessors’ fixation with being as much Python as Pratchett. An inspired take on Ankh-Morpork full of HP Lovecraft parodies, noir monologues and detectiving in a world of trolls, vampires and werewolves, it worked beautifully, and even had some dialogue and other input from the man himself.

Toonstruck

Release date: 1996 | Developer: Burst | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Christopher Lloyd, as Drew Blanc, explores a saccharine land of kiddy cartoons that takes a hard right into BDSM cows, evil clowns popping bunny balloons in the eye, and Tim Curry being... well, Tim Curry. Just pity the translators. Much of the game is about finding matching pairs of words to build a machine: SUGAR and SPICE for instance, and they weren’t allowed to change any.

King's Quest VI

Best adventure games — King's Quest VI

Release date: 1992 | Developer: Sierra Online | GOG (opens in new tab)

While a legendary series, most of the King’s Quest games are better left as nostalgic memories. This is the exception, not simply latching onto classic stories like some kind of fondness vampire, but mixing them together into the Land of the Green Isles—a place that became more than the sum of its parts, with imagination around every corner, beautiful scenery, and by far the series’ best writing, which isn’t too surprising given that it was Gabriel Knight creator Jane Jensen at the typewriter.

Samorost 3

Release date: 2016 | Developer: Amanita Design | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

A surreal exploration game filled with quizzical vignettes, Samorost 3 is something to dive into without asking for too much explanation. Andy's review offers an illuminating picture: 

"I'm standing in front of a giant moth. It would tower over me if it weren't unconscious, but it is, and so I tweak one of its antennae, just to see what will happen. It quivers, like a guitar string. I twang another, and then another. Eventually, they start to resonate, deeply and musically. As the vibrations fade away, I put my magic horn to my lips and play back the tune. My brief concerto awakens the moth, and boy, it is lit. A pair of luminous, spectral ‘ghost moths,’ one pink and one blue, emerge from its proboscis, entwined in a musical dance. With patience and a notepad, I'm able to replicate their musical interchange as well, and that's when things get really weird: Lights flash, music plays, and what I can only describe as a carousel of patio lanterns begins to spin under the lip of a giant fungus. I dance a triumphant jig; a blue-pink swirly thing is added to my inventory. I have accomplished... something. I have no idea what."

Thimbleweed Park

Release date: 2017 | Developer: Terrible Toybox | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Decades later, some of the same people that helped start the adventure game genre put out a game that works as a streamlined homage to dated point-and-click design without sacrificing identity. Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and friends made Thimbleweed Park old-school item hunting accessible by compartmentalizing each of the five playable characters’ introductions in their own closed-off puzzle scenarios. They teach you how to think like a wacky cartoon character before letting you loose in the strange old town, where an industrious pillow factory once stood and the few remaining locals prattle on about government conspiracy and dangerous gossip. The puzzles get convoluted and the humor a bit too fourth-wall, but in a classic adventure game about classic adventure games, we’d expect nothing less. 

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars

Release date: 1996 | Developer: Revolution Games | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

For a while in the ’90s, you couldn’t move for mentions of and conspiracies about the Knights Templar. But Broken Sword was among the first, working the order into a modern-day holiday for American tourist George Stobbart and French photojournalist Nico Collard as they travelled the world to uncover both the historical events and the new organisation abusing the Knight’s legacy. Beautiful and evocative in every frame, slow and measured like a victorious racing turtle, and bizarrely, far better without all the extra Director’s Cut stuff we got later—though that's what's on sale.

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon

Release date: 1997 | Developer Legend Entertainment

Josh Mandel’s conversion of Spider Robinson’s books is one of the great adventuring underdogs of all time; damn near every pixel is a pun. The second half somewhat runs out of steam, but the first few scenarios are as much a joy to play as it is to hang out with the regulars.

The Blackwell Legacy

Best adventure games — The Blackwell Legacy

Release date: 2006 | Developer: Wadjet Eye Games | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

The series about a shy medium and her ghost partner trying to save lost souls in New York unquestionably started out a bit janky, but it quickly turned into an exceptionally heartfelt and successful sequence of adventures. Grounded in a rare sense of sympathy, written with an eye for minimalism, and showing constant improvements, it’s a game that started out being inspired by the classics but soon proved itself worthy of sitting alongside them. Creator Dave Gilbert has consistently designed smart, modern point-and-clicks since the early 2000s.

Loom

Release date: 1990 | Developer: LucasFilm Games | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Another Lucas classic, where music is magic and the world is very blue indeed. Loom traded the typical Lucasarts point-and-click verbs for a creative music note interface, and there's never been another adventure game like it. Why this never got a sequel is a mystery: it was confident and yet never flashy, short but sweet, simple but touching. In many ways, a game decades before its time—a story that can be finished in one sitting, perfect for a quick evening’s download from GOG.

The Longest Journey

Release date: 2000 | Developer: Funcom | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

Adventures don’t come much more epic than this, the game with the title that isn’t kidding... even if it is at least somewhat dragged out by the dialogue. A game of two fascinating worlds, ours in the future, and a fantasy land also technically in the future, but not quite as full of Blade Runner elements. It’s an amazing trip through the weird, the sinister, and some of the sweariest people this side of Joe Pesci stubbing his toe.

The Last Express

Release date: 1997 | Developer: Smoking Car Productions | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

On the eve of World War I, the Orient Express makes its final journey across Europe, carrying with it a microcosm of the world powers, a mysterious egg, and one Robert Cath, stuck in a deadly situation he doesn’t even understand. The result is an outstandingly atmospheric adventure, that uses language and meticulous detail to build a mood, and a real-time clock that never stops ticking. Slow, claustrophobic, but always captivating, it’s a ride still worth taking as long as you don’t mind a sometimes slow pace.

Gabriel Knight

Release date: 1993 | Developer: Sierra Online | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

One of the first mainstream adventures to pin its flag in mature storytelling, with a dark atmosphere borrowing from graphic novels and a depth of research and maturity that still stands out. It’s slow paced and its attempts at horror are quaint by modern standards, but its place amongst the classics is unquestionable. The FMV sequel, The Beast Within, is also excellent.

The Secret of Monkey Island

Release date: 1990 | Developer: LucasFilm Games | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

The sequel is arguably both the better and funnier game, but there’s a raw innocence to the first that keeps it especially fresh. The childlike joy of a world where a young man can come out of nowhere, declare “I want to be a pirate!” and soon be sailing off in search of distant lands, the hand of the beautiful governor, and the most tantalising yet clearly nonexistent secret in gaming.

Sam & Max Hit the Road

Release date: 1993 | Developer: LucasArts | GOG (opens in new tab)

One of LucasArts’ weaker offerings in terms of puzzles and story, Sam & Max makes up for all of it and more with its sheer enthusiasm and a mountain of minigames, throwaway gags and craziness capable of casting a shadow over much of the southern hemisphere. It’s a cartoon trip around the tackiest tourist traps ever seen, with the psychopathic Freelance Police on the hunt for a missing Bigfoot taken by a country-and-western star. It’s that kind of game.

Full Throttle

Release date: 1995 | Developer: LucasArts | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

Creator Tim Schafer introduced this by saying that where Day of the Tentacle’s star, Bernard, would get through a door with a sandwich by buttering the floor and using a cocktail stick to push out the key, Ben from Full Throttle... would kick down the door. It’s a physical, hard-punching adventure with an atmosphere to die for, and a short runtime that at the time disappointed, but in retrospect allows exactly the right focus.

Quest for Glory IV

Release date: 1993 | Developer: Sierra Online | GOG (opens in new tab)

If you’ve never played a Quest For Glory... begin with the first, obviously. When you get to Quest for Glory IV, you’ll be ready to enjoy a truly wonderful mix of adventure and RPG with more heart than you’d expect from the frosty welcome. It has one of the most nuanced videogame villains ever, and Fighters, Wizards, Thieves and Paladins can all save the day in their own way. It’s the chance for heroism that all heroes crave.

Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive

Release date: 1996 | Developer: Access Software | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

2043’s answer to Sam Spade is up to his neck in government conspiracies and alien encounters, and finally coming into his own as one of the great adventure game characters. Co-designer and star Chris Jones steals the show as Tex, whose adventure combines dodgy FMV with immersive 3D. A mix of puzzles, comedy and drama that still stands up well. Give or take some of the acting.

Technobabylon

Release date: 2015 | Developer: Technocrat Games | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)

Easily one of the best cyberpunk games ever made. It’s not just that Technobabylon has the technology. It has the warmth and humanity that so often goes missing when the neon lights shine on rainy streets and robots join us in our daily lives. Absolutely astounding pixel art and fantastic writing tells a story that knows when to rely on fancy tricks and when to keep things simple and relatable. Jumping between characters means not only a chance to see this wonderfully rendered world from multiple angles, but to enjoy it from every level—from the drug-dens of VR obsessed gamers, to the steel towers of cops genuinely trying to do their best in tough situations. Best played late at night, with the rain rattling against your window, before it has a chance to come true.

Kathy Rain

Release date: 2016 | Developer: Clifftop Games | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

Murder. Mystery. Pixels. Kathy Rain—no relation to Heavy Rain—hasn’t exactly been a success so far, but it’s one of the best classic adventures of 2016, so I'm going to throw it a well deserved bone here. Gorgeous scenery and atmospheric detail guide you by the hand into a compelling and dramatic mystery that won’t stretch your brain too much, but won’t outstay its welcome either. If you’ve ever enjoyed a game in the Gabriel Knight lineage, check it out.

Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! 

Release date: 2016 | Developer: Alasdair Beckett-King | Steam (opens in new tab), Humble Store (opens in new tab)

Modern adventures don’t get more cheerfully throw-back than Nelly Cootalot. Her heart is in the 90s. Her game is one of the most cheerful, harmless, happily small-scale adventures around, and a rare modern case of simply being able to sit down and be charmed by a tale that has no interest in grit, darkness or any edge that can’t be used for a puzzle. Also it has Tom Baker in it. The whole thing is a Kickstarted sequel to a free adventure from ages ago, made with love. And Unity, of course.

With contributions from